Public school educators see firsthand the positive results of high-quality early childhood education. The problem is, all early childhood education isn’t top-quality. This morning at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, early childhood advocates joined together at a press conference to call for improving the quality of education for the youngest in our state by raising the wages and standards for early childhood providers.
By July 1, 2015, 50 percent of early childhood education providers in Connecticut are required to have bachelor’s degrees, and by 2020, 100 percent must hold them. The workforce is on track to meet those numbers, but those who work in the field report that once providers have earned their degrees, they leave for positions where they can be better compensated.
“We’re headed toward a crisis in early education if we don’t figure this out,” said Karen Rainville, executive director of the Connecticut Association for the Education of Young Children. Rainville’s association was one of eighteen organizations, along with CEA, who cosponsored the press conference.
State Senator Beth Bye said that research has shown that early childhood providers’ wages are highly correlated with student outcomes, at least in part because wages are correlated with degree attainment.
“We’re not caught up with the times. We’re requiring a bachelor’s degree but not compensating accordingly,” said State Representative Michelle Cook. She added that although the state has incredible early childhood providers doing incredible things, “I believe they need to be paid the wages they deserve.”
“It’s about a fair wage for early childhood workers, but it’s really about the impact low wages have on the outcomes for children in Connecticut,” Bye said.
Twenty-five years ago, the National Child Care Staffing Study found that the early childhood workforce was earning poverty-level wages and faced high turnover rates. Unfortunately, these findings still hold true today.
“Early childhood education is more important than we knew 25 years ago,” said Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance. “Brain research is now showing how important high-quality early childhood education is, yet we still have the problem that the people who care for our youngest children are paid very poorly.”
“I think policymakers, myself among them, race to increase early childhood education access for families,” Bye said. “We need to shift that focus from, ‘I created this many slots,’ and start thinking about high-quality slots — slots where teachers are paid a fair wage.
“Simply having preschool isn’t enough,” Bye added. “It has to be high quality.”
Gay said that, for low-income families with working parents who need childcare, that care is one of their biggest budget items. Affording high-quality care is a struggle for the families who need it, yet the workers who provide the care aren’t paid a livable wage.
“We have a market mismatch,” Gay said. “This is a place where government needs to step in and solve the problem.”
Bye agreed, “We need a smarter public investment to make sure we’re getting the quality kids need.”